It was a regular afternoon and we were in 1st Grade. Suddenly, we were told that classes would be suspended and that we should line up outside our classrooms. We saw that all lines got connected and led to the school clinic. Those who went out had tears in their eyes, holding their upper right arms and could not tell us what happened. It turned out that we will be given vaccinations. I tried telling the nurse that I had shots already since me and my sisters were brought several times to the hospital and had injections on our butts. The nurse would hear none of it and they broke out this vial and needle and proceeded to scratch the skin of my upper arm. It hurt and something like broken glass with a clear liquid was applied to it. After that we were sent home and I showed it to my mother. She just said “Ay, na-bakunahan ka na”. That was the first time I ever heard of it, “bakuna” I mean. In a few hours the skin around it turned red and it had this steady throbbing pain. The next day, there were classmates who did not go to school. I myself was running a low grade fever but still managed to attend school and play a little after it. In the next few days, the  main game was punching the upper arm of a classmate (it was an all-boys school). Some even had swelling and the wound would be surrounded by pus. But we all endured and in a week it was this round scar on the right arm and another scar on the left arm but the wound in the left arm was not as prominent and quickly dried up.

That mark is called a circatrix. It is like a passport wherein those who got vaccinated against smallpox were identified. After a few years I learned that smallpox was one of the most dreaded diseases aside from polio which we had several cases in school. But eventually, kids with polio also started to disappear. No more children wearing those leg braces.

Smallpox vaccination was very stringent in the United States by the turn of the century. It was a badge that one has to show in order to immigrate. Also, it was an internal passport since without it, one cannot enrol in school, get a job or join the army, go to workplaces and public places. In fact, it was strictly enforced that those without the scars on their upper arms were forcibly given the vaccinations.

The campaign was so successful that by 1972, smallpox vaccination ceased in the US and the last known case was recorded in Somalia in 1977. By 1980, the World Health Organization had declared that smallpox has been eradicated.

This was a triumph of modern medicine and science together with worldwide cooperation. By this time, those of us who have the scar or circatrix are bound for extinction. Just a vestige of an era where man was threatened by deadly diseases and a time when humanity, medicine and science fought back and became triumphant.

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